British, German diplomats downplay speculation that Cairo flight suspensions politically motivated
Courtesy: British Airways
 

“British Airways’ move is absolutely not tied to a political decision. Their move is tied to the reasons they accounted for in their own statement,” a source within the British Embassy told Mada Masr on Monday. 

On Saturday, British Airways had announced a weeklong suspension of its flights between London and Cairo. The German aviation company Lufthansa followed suit, before reversing its decision the following day. 

An airport official and airline spokespeople also denied speculation this week that the decision stemmed from British transportation officials’ recent security inspection of the Cairo International Airport. British Airways maintained that its flights were grounded as a precaution against an unnamed threat.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority head Sameh al-Hanafy had commented on the British airline’s decision. “It’s a political decision, not a security one,” he said. “Every time tourism is revived in Egypt, a fabricated crisis happens. There are several English companies still in operation, many of which are big companies, like Thomas Cook and Thomson.” Hanafy also attributed the decision to internal problems within the two airline companies.

Hanafy’s statement was followed by a statement from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which said that the ministry is in communication with British Airways to find out the reason behind the flight stoppage, and the nature of the information on which the decision was based. The ministry was only notified that British Airways and Lufthansa flights were suspended for the Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada airports, the statement read, and not the cause of the cancellations.

During a meeting on Sunday, British Ambassador to Egypt Geoffrey Adams apologized to Minister of Civil Aviation Younis al-Masry for not informing the Egyptian authorities beforehand regarding British Airways’ decision to suspend its flights.

A German diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, distanced the foreign office and the German government from the airlines’ move. “The German Foreign Office was not involved in Lufthansa’s decision to cancel flights to Egypt, nor with the decision to resume them,” the diplomat said.

British Airways described its sudden decision as a “precaution” against a potential threat. The German diplomat told Mada Masr that Lufthansa’s decision to suspend its flights was based on British Airways’ decision, adding that the German company canceled flights from Frankfurt and Munich to Cairo, without knowing the details of the security risks on which the British company based its decision. 

Lufthansa resumed its flights to Cairo on Sunday. A British Airways spokesperson said that they are constantly reviewing security measures in all the airports around the world where they operate, and that they had only halted their flights to Cairo for a period of seven days as a precautionary measure to allow for more evaluation. Observers had made a number of speculations on the impetus for the decision, ranging from warnings of a potential terror attack, to security issues at Cairo airport, to the escalating tensions in the Arab Gulf. However, the company did not specify the nature of the security problem at hand. A British Airways spokesperson told Sky News that the company could not elaborate further because it does not discuss security matters.

Both British and German sources affirmed that the airlines’ decisions have nothing to do with travel advisories from either embassy. “We conducted a travel advisory update on July 19 that doesn’t have any substantive changes and that covers a range of issues. But in general, we don’t advise against travel to Egypt,” the British diplomat told Mada Masr. The German diplomat said that the German Embassy’s travel advisory had not changed since last June. 

A delegation of experts from the British transportation department conducted a security inspection at the Cairo airport last week, the second inspection of its kind since last May. The delegation also examined security procedures on Egypt Air and British Airways flights, and monitored cargo security procedures at the airport. The delegation had not expressed any objections to the airport’s security procedures following the visit, according to a source in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

The British diplomat echoed this sentiment. “The airport inspection delegation last week has absolutely no link to British Airways’ decision,” the diplomat said. “There are also no concerns over security measures in the Cairo airport.”

According to a source from the Cairo airport, the flight suspension decisions on Saturday did not affect security arrangements at the airport.

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